Saturday, May 23, 2015

Preventing a New Dust Bowl with the Groasis Waterboxx

In the movie Interstellar, a treeless landscape is subjected to frequent dust storms, choking those forced to live above ground.  A non-fiction account of such storms in found in the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl.  With increasing drought in much of the western United States, is it possible such dust storms could happen again?

Focusing on the historical dust bowl, we find several things concerning to us in the present day.    First, the western Great Plains had several year wet spells, before returning to dry conditions in which farming was not tenable without irrigation.  This is perhaps what we are seeing today - with only areas that have central pivot irrigation pumping water from the Ogalalla Aquifer surviving.

These previous wet conditions came right after the Homestead Act and Transcontinental Railroad caused mass migration to this area in the mid 1860s.  This convinced settlers that "rain follows the plow" as land promoters said, the opposite of reality.  Farmers to this area used similar practices to what they had done farther east - with deep plowing, no cover crops in winter, and no windbreak planting.

A Dust Storm hitting Stratford Texas in 1935 - from Wikipedia
The grasses that had inhabited the Western Great Plains prior to farming had very deep roots, and this allowed them to survive periods of drought by tapping capillary water in the soil.  During the 1920s, the rainfall was sufficient for farming, even when the native grasses were removed.  However, beginning in the 1930s, drought again began - and the top soil began to blow away.

What can be done to prevent such erosion in dry periods while still utilizing farmland or grazing land.  One simple answer is plant trees.  This is what the Civilian Conservation Corps did in response to the Dust Bowl with considerable success and popularity.  The CCC was disbanded during WWII due to need for manpower to fight the war.

In this map from the USDA, areas in yellow and red are at high risk for desertification.  You can see that much of the Western U.S. is in this category.  
How can trees be planted in an area too dry to sustain other plant life?  With new technology, specifically the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Groasis Waterboxx was designed in Holland by a tulip and lily breeder, who while traveling the world, became deeply impacted by the spreading deserts in the countries he visited.  He wanted to reverse this process.  He sold his bulb business, and spent half of the proceeds (approximately $7 million), developing a self refilling water battery for trees - the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx both collects and stores water.  It is set up around a sapling tree (or other plant), ten gallons of water are poured into the soil, and the Waterboxx itself is filled with 4 gallons.  The Waterboxx then is able to be removed and reused for up to ten years.

How effective is the Waterboxx in helping trees survive?  In a Sahara desert planting trial, 88% of single trees survived to one year when planted with the Waterboxx, even though water was given only at planting.  The survival percentage for one tree increased to 99% when two trees were planted with the Waterboxx and the weaker one removed at one year.  This compares to only 11% survival of the same tree (salt cedar) when they were watered weekly.  You can see the results from this trial below.
Three years growth of a Salt Cedar with the Groasis Waterboxx.  From  

Trees planted with the Waterboxx will survive even when the Waterboxx is removed.  This is because the Waterboxx releases water straight down, inducing the tree roots to grow to deeper moist soil.  The tree can survive off the water held in capillary channels here during drought.  This concept is explained in the video below.

Another example of the Waterboxx turning desert into green space is Kuwait.  Here Ghaf trees initially planted with the Waterboxx survived and are thriving eight months after the Waterboxxes were removed.

Ghaf trees with no watering after planting - in the last photo the Waterboxx have been gone for 8 months and the trees still survive.  This land is now protected against dust storms and can be used for grazing.

Won't trees planted with the Waterboxx be eaten by wildlife?  Possibly, but there is a solution for this as well.  The Growsafe Tree Protector allows light and air through to the trunk, but protects the tree from hungry herbivores.  Several can be combined end to end to prevent tree damage until the tree is old enough to survive on its own.

While it is best to plant trees in the fall or spring, the Waterboxx increases tree survival when they are planted in summer as well.  Please visit Dew Harvest if you would like to buy the Waterboxx

If you would like to learn how to grow plants without watering with the Waterboxx, the best resource is the book The Waterboxx Gardener: How to Mimic Nature, Stop Watering, and Start Enjoying Your Garden available here on 

Image: Desertification Vulnerability
Accessed from on 5/23/2015; public domain

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